To Be a Warrior
The Adventurous Life and Mysterious Death of Billy Davidson
About the Book
An energetic and engaging investigation into the life and death of legendary climber, paddler, and recluse Billy “Kayak Bill” Davidson.
Billy Davidson (1947–2003) was born in Calgary, Alberta, and grew up in an orphanage in the 1950s. Living close to the Rockies, he was introduced to mountaineering at an early age and climbed his first mountain at 12 years old, eventually becoming one of Canada’s most prolific big wall climbers, with historic ascents in the Rockies and Squamish, along with an early ascent of the North America Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite. After suffering a nearly fatal fall in the late 1970s, he abandoned the climbing scene and moved to BC’s Pacific Northwest, where he spent most of his time kayaking and painting, living alone on various remote islands in the Inside Passage for over 30 years.
A sometimes meticulous journal writer, Davidson made what would be his last entry, on December 7, 2003. Three months after Billy’s final diary note, he was found dead near his camp in the remote Goose Islands group near Hakai, British Columbia. He died of a gunshot wound to the head.
Based on years of research using Davidson’s journals and dozens of interviews with those who knew him, outdoor journalist Brandon Pullan has penned a remarkable biography of an enigmatic character who continues to loom large in both the mountaineering and the kayaking communities of western Canada.
Praise for To Be a Warrior…
“One of the best biographies of a Canadian climber I’ve read. A deeply researched, compassionate and knowledgeable exploration of the life of one of Canada’s most enigmatic climbers.”
—David Smart, author of Emilio Comici: Angel of the Dolomites (Banff Mountain Book Award, 2020); Paul Preuss: Lord of the Abyss (shortlisted by both Banff and Boardman Tasker, 2019); and A Youth Wasted Climbing
“If ever there was a more enigmatic figure in the Canadian climbing and paddling world, it would have to be Billy Davidson. Artist, hermit, survivalist, Billy quietly forged his own trail, from the beer-soaked tables in the dive frequented by the Calgary Mountain Club in the early ’70s, to the storm-ravaged shores of unnamed islets on BC’s wild Pacific coast. For those lucky enough to have known Billy, this book is a fitting legacy to his extraordinary life.”
—Pat Morrow, mountaineer, filmmaker, photographer, environmental advocate, coauthor of Searching for Tao Canyon
“A fascinating story and a beautiful tribute to Billy Davidson, a remarkable man who chose to follow his own path.” —Chic Scott, award-winning author of Pushing the Limits; Powder Pioneers; Deep Powder and Steep Rock: The Life of Mountain Guide Hans Gmoser and numerous bestselling guidebooks such as Summits and Icefields 1 and 2 (both with Mark Klassen) and Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies (with Darren Farley)
“To Be a Warrior: The Adventurous Life and Mysterious Death of Billy Davidson delivers more than the promise of its subtitle. In researching the life of one man, Pullan has managed to illuminate the early days of the CMC and the grit of those climbers who adventured up Yamnuska when it was a mostly blank canvas in the sky. As Pullan tracks Billy from the orphanage to the Rockies to the wild coast of British Columbia the portrait that emerges is of an iconoclastic visionary, someone we now know we would have loved to have met.” —David Stevenson, author of Letters from Chamonix (Banff Mountain Book Award, 2014), Warnings Against Myself: Meditations on a Life in Climbing and the novel Forty Crows as well as numerous articles in Ascent, Alpinist, Isotope, Weber Studies, Cimmaron Review, and the American Alpine Journal, where he has been the book review editor for many years
“Bold, enigmatic and fiercely individual people make the most fascinating characters to read about. Even better when the author shares those traits of boldness and individuality in addition to the sensitivity and passion required to write a book worthy of their subject. With To Be a Warrior, Brandon Pullan has achieved a book that honestly and justly captures the spirit of Billy Davidson’s life.” —Lynn Martel, author of Stories of Ice, Tales and Trails and Expedition to the Edge
“To Be a Warrior immerses readers deep within the vivid inner and outer worlds of Billy Davidson – from mountains and islands to paintings and journals – evoking the sense of continual seeking that once ran through the existence of a talented and mysterious climber and that persists through many human lives. At once profoundly researched and fluidly written, the resulting book represents literary mountaineering journalism at its best.” —Katie Ives, editor-in-chief of Alpinist and author of Imaginary Peaks: The Riesenstein Hoax and Other Mountain Dreams
“An extraordinary account of an uncompromising life lived on distant horizons, both inner and outer. Pullan takes the reader to places many dream of but few will ever visit, except in these pages.” —Bruce Kirkby, author of three bestsellers, Globe and Mail columnist, and a National Magazine Award winner whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, EnRoute and Canadian Geographic. His photography was selected by National Geographic as among “the most compelling adventure images of the decade.”